Borys Wrzesnewskyj is ready to take on the elites who run the Liberal Party, looking to return the Grits to the ideals that made them one of the most successful parties in democratic history.
From now until 2013, the former Liberal MP is hoping to “unwedge the backroom boys” and open the party up through a grassroots effort to sign up new members. If all goes according to plan, it could lead to a run for the Liberal leadership.
But first, he said, the party must be opened up.
“It’s not a private club, it belongs to the Canadian people and it’s part of the democratic process. And we have an incredible opportunity after the devastation of this last party and the slap-down that this establishment received for having parachuted Michael Ignatieff into the riding and then into the leadership of the party.”
Ignatieff landed in his Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding in Toronto for the 2004 election. He took the Liberal leadership by acclaim after Bob Rae bowed out of an irregular leadership race that reduced voting to the Liberal caucus, riding association presidents, and some others—but not the entire party membership.
Wrzesnewskyj spoke with The Epoch Times from his family-owned business, Future Bakery, in Etobicoke.
A Critical Opportunity in 2013
Wrzesnewskyj said 2013 is a critical opportunity for the party to show it is ready to represent Canadian values and the ideals that led it to become one of the most successful parties in the history of democracy.
He noted that it was the Liberals that pushed forward the idea of multiculturalism, a just society, and peacekeeping. But that success brought its own problems, he said.
“Success attracts people, and often very capable people, with wrong motivations,” he said. “We’ll see over the next two years whether we can jettison that group, because they are like an anchor.”
Wrzesnewskyj blames that group for the party’s declining election returns and a legacy that dampens its future prospects.
“I haven’t given up on the Liberal Party. There is no other party in Western democracy such as ours. They are all parties of the right or left,” he said.
“The Liberal Party is not a party of ideology—it’s a reflection of Canadian history, of accommodation.”
While other parties are guided by ideology, the Liberals are, at their best, guided by ideals, said Wrzesnewskyj.
“That’s why it would be such a shame to lose the Liberal Party of Canada as a consequence of being highjacked by a so-called party establishment.”
Wrzesnewskyj has a track record of pushing back against the will of the party—a tendency that makes overcoming an entrenched echelon critical to his success.
That tension began soon after he was first elected in 2004 when he said a party staffer tried to truncate a motion he planned to introduce to the House of Commons supporting transparent elections in Ukraine. The staffer tore the bottom half off the motion.
“He actually ripped it in half and crumpled it in front of me in the lobby with all the MPs around.”
Undeterred, Wrzesnewskyj got support from the opposition parties and, in a backhanded way, got his party to support it. The motion passed with unanimous consent.
“When I spoke to Paul Martin and explained the circumstances, he said ‘You did the right thing.’”
The former Prime Minister backed Wrzesnewskyj when it came time to play a crucial role in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine during the 2004 presidential campaign.
With the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs on board, Canada planned to send 500 election observers to Ukraine. The federal government initially agreed, but then reduced the number to 50.
Wrzesnewskyj slammed the reduction in the press. He soon got a call from the PMO for contradicting the party line.
“I was told, ‘Borys, don’t do anymore media, we are going to try to fix this.’”
The number was soon returned to 500.
With Martin’s support, Wrzesnewskyj also got passports and travel documents for Yaroslav Davydovych, chair of Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, who had been afraid to speak openly about fraud during the election.
Capacities in Canada
As reports mounted of ways the election was rigged, Russian leader Vladimir Putin sent congratulations to pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovych. But Davydovych refused to sign off on the election results. Soon, other members of the election commission backed off their signatures as well.
“That was the beginning of the end,” said Wrzesnewskyj.
Viktor Yushchenko, who is friendly with the West, ended up winning the election after a recount, with Canada having played a major role in changing the course of history in Ukraine.
“That speaks to the capacities that we have in this country when we get it right.”
Yushchenko awarded Wrzesnewskyj the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, one of Ukraine’s highest honours.
Wrzesnewskyj can list a number of stories showing that he backs up his ideas with action, such as self-funded missions to Sudan, Darfur, Somalia, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. He financed election observers for the first round of voting in Ukraine to the tune of $250,000.
It’s that track record, combined with his deep appreciation for the ideals of the Liberal Party, that make him a good prospect for 2013, he said.
Whether he can take the helm of the party will depend on how many others agree with him.